As an individual, Urmila was always inclined to help others less privileged than her. She had a master's degree in social work and she was married to a mechanical engineer. Urmila decided that she would be able to realise some of her dreams by working as a counsellor. But her little world came undone when she tested positive for the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV) during the fifth month of her pregnancy. Her husband, too, tested HIV positive.
Although Urmila's child was born with the HIV infection, she and her husband were determined to fight it out. Unfortunately however, her husband died a few months later. A depressed Urmila sought the support of her in-laws. But not only did her in-laws ostracise her, they also tricked her into signing away her and her son's rights to her husband's share of the family property. A traumatised Urmila had no option but to return with her son to her parents' house in Mumbai.
Despite difficult circumstances, Urmila was lucky because she had supportive parents. But most HIV positive women in India are not as fortunate. "A majority of the HIV+ women are discriminated against by their in-laws as well as their parental family. Traditionally, women tend to rally around each other in times of trouble. But we found that even other women in households that had HIV+ women are not sympathetic perhaps because of fear of society," says S M Afsar, project director of the India office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).